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Acupuncture Vs Dry Needling: Unraveling The Pointed Differences

Acupuncture vs Dry Needling: Unraveling the Pointed Differences

Acupuncture and dry needling are two therapeutic techniques that involve the insertion of fine needles into specific points on the body. While they may seem similar at first glance, they have distinct differences in terms of their underlying principles, goals, and applications. In this blog, we will delve into the difference between acupuncture and dry needling to help you understand when and why each approach is used.

  1. Acupuncture:

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese healing art that dates back thousands of years. It is rooted in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and is based on the concept of balancing the body’s vital energy, known as “qi” or “chi.” Acupuncture practitioners believe that disruptions in the flow of qi through the body’s meridians (energy pathways) lead to illness and discomfort. By inserting thin needles into specific acupuncture points along these meridians, they aim to restore the flow of qi and promote healing.

  1. Dry Needling:

Dry needling, on the other hand, is a relatively modern technique that emerged in the West during the 20th century. It is primarily based on neurophysiological principles and does not involve the same philosophical or energetic framework as acupuncture. Dry needling focuses on treating musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction by targeting trigger points, which are tight knots in muscles that can cause pain, stiffness, and other symptoms. The primary goal of dry needling is to release these trigger points and improve muscle function.

Needle Insertion Techniques

  1. Acupuncture:

In acupuncture, needles are typically inserted at various depths, depending on the specific acupuncture point and the practitioner’s assessment of the patient’s condition. The needles are often left in place for a longer duration, typically 20-30 minutes, during which the patient may experience a sensation known as “de qi,” which is described as a dull ache or tingling sensation.

  1. Dry Needling:

Dry needling involves the insertion of needles directly into trigger points in muscles or soft tissues. The needles used in dry needling are typically finer and shorter than those used in acupuncture. Unlike acupuncture, the needles in dry needling are not left in place for an extended period; they are inserted and removed relatively quickly, often causing a twitch response in the muscle.

Treatment Goals

  1. Acupuncture:

The primary goal of acupuncture is to balance the body’s energy flow and promote overall wellness. It is used to address a wide range of conditions, including chronic pain, stress, anxiety, digestive issues, and more. Acupuncture is often seen as a holistic approach to health, focusing on the mind-body connection.

  1. Dry Needling:

Dry needling is specifically targeted at relieving musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction. It is commonly used to treat conditions such as muscle tightness, spasms, sports injuries, and myofascial pain syndrome. Dry needling aims to release trigger points and improve the function of the affected muscles.

Practitioner Training and Certification

  1. Acupuncture:

Acupuncture practitioners typically undergo extensive training and education in traditional Chinese medicine, including the principles of qi, meridians, and TCM diagnosis. They must become licensed acupuncturists, which involves completing accredited acupuncture programs and passing certification exams.

  1. Dry Needling:

Dry needling practitioners, often physiotherapists, massage therapists or chiropractors, receive specialized training in this technique to complement other forms of therapy. 


At Physio Group South-West, we use Dry needling as a tool to complement our other treatment modalities.

Your Physio will discuss Dry Needling with you if they feel you would benefit from it. Dry needling may not be appropriate for you as there are certain contraindications such as:

  1. Infection: Dry needling should not be performed in areas with active or suspected infections, as it can introduce bacteria deeper into the tissues and exacerbate the infection.

  2. Bleeding disorders: People with bleeding disorders or those taking anticoagulant medications may be at a higher risk of bleeding and hematoma formation after dry needling. Caution and individual assessment are necessary.

  3. Allergies or hypersensitivity to needles: Some individuals may have a severe fear of needles or allergic reactions to the materials used in the needles. Practitioners should be aware of these issues and work with patients to address their concerns.

  4. Pregnancy: Dry needling in certain areas, especially the abdomen and lower back, should be avoided during pregnancy to prevent potential harm to the fetus. Pregnant women should consult with their healthcare provider before undergoing dry needling.

  5. Severe local tissue damage or open wounds: Needling should not be performed in areas with extensive tissue damage, open wounds, or compromised skin integrity as it may worsen the condition and increase the risk of infection.

  6. Cancer or tumor presence: Dry needling should be avoided in areas with known tumors or cancerous lesions, as there is a risk of spreading cancer cells or causing injury to surrounding tissues.

  7. Severe muscle spasms or guarding: Dry needling may not be effective or safe in muscles that are in a constant state of severe spasm or guarding. These conditions should be addressed before considering dry needling.

  8. Certain neurological conditions: People with certain neurological conditions, such as peripheral neuropathy, should be assessed carefully before undergoing dry needling, as altered sensation and response to needling may occur.

  9. Psychological or emotional factors: Patients with severe anxiety, panic disorders, or psychological conditions that make them highly sensitive to needles may not be suitable candidates for dry needling. In such cases, alternative treatments should be considered.

  10. Age and frailty: Elderly individuals or those who are frail may have thinner skin and tissues, making them more susceptible to bruising or tissue damage. Special care and consideration should be taken when performing dry needling on such individuals.

It’s important to ensure you notify your Physio or Massage therapist if you have any of the above. We have many other effective treatment modalities to help you.


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